President Obama recently cast doubt on whether Egypt is an American ally; his remarks were quickly walked back by the State Department.
The confusion is unsurprising — the international order is being upended by turmoil in the Middle East, renewed rivalries in Asia, and other convulsions throughout the globe. Historical allies such as Egypt are becoming increasingly hostile to American interests, while relations are improving with old enemies like Vietnam. Key countries in Central and South America are sliding back toward socialism, while the military junta in Burma is taking historic steps toward freedom.
Meanwhile, U.S. policymakers overlook our ally Mexico, whose war with the drug cartels is spilling over the border. What’s more, various other allies as well as potential new ones are treated as afterthoughts.
Amid today’s historic changes, America’s foreign policy is incoherent and adrift, lacking clear criteria even for distinguishing friend from foe. For some time, America assumed that democracies were our natural allies. However, as governments in Venezuela, the Gaza Strip, Russia, Egypt, and elsewhere attest, democracies can be unfriendly and even hostile to the United States.
Thus, it’s time to try a new approach to foreign policy — creating an alliance of free-trading nations. This policy would consist of four pillars:
‐ The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is a comprehensive, multilateral free-trade agreement that the United States, Australia, Mexico, Canada, and seven other nations are negotiating. This pact will use many of our existing bilateral free-trade agreements as a basis to create a strong bloc of allies united by free trade.
‐ A U.S.-EU free-trade agreement. The EU is America’s largest trading partner, with $1.5 trillion in annual trade flowing between the two sides. Together, the U.S. and EU represent 40 percent of the world’s GDP and 47 percent of global trade. Bonding Europe and the United States through free trade would help both economies while they’re struggling, and would give rise to a dominant economic alliance that would strongly influence other nations toward free trade.
‐ A U.S.-Brazil free-trade agreement. With the world’s sixth largest economy, Brazil is a growing regional power and a natural U.S. ally. We need to overcome past suspicions and help cement Brazil’s position as a primary force for stability and peace in South America, and as a counterweight to neo-socialist regimes and budding narco-states such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and others throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean.
‐ Reforming the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). The GSP is meant to give a helping hand to developing economies by offering them non-reciprocated trade preferences. This is still a valuable form of assistance for some countries, but other beneficiaries have experienced rapid economic growth and have outgrown their GSP beneficiary status. We should end GSP preferences for such nations. If they strictly adhere to the rule of law, we should begin working with them toward eliminating trade barriers on both sides.
This alliance of free-trading nations will welcome any nation that wants close relations with the United States, setting clear, universal criteria for our friendship: a commitment to free trade and the rule of law. It will encourage a host of potential allies to embrace economic freedom and engage in mutually beneficial commerce. At the same time, the initiative will largely keep us aligned with other free nations; dictators can’t abide free trade because it erodes their control over their nations’ economy, and they invariably favor their own arbitrary authority over the rule of law.
To guide America toward this new partnership, I have introduced in Congress the Economic Freedom Alliance Act. Some may criticize this initiative as radical, but the dire challenges we face demand a dramatic change of course. As the world economy limps along with no relief in sight, we watch as mere spectators while the international order is reshaped to our disadvantage. Islamic fundamentalism is gripping the Middle East, neo-socialism and drug cartels are spreading in our own hemisphere, and we are offering no meaningful leadership to move events in a different direction.
Our main venues for addressing the rest of the world are inadequate. The WTO is ineffective, and the U.N. is a dysfunctional organization in which tyrannical regimes denounce the free world while shielding each other’s miserable human-rights records from condemnation. Furthermore, experience has shown that democratization doesn’t work and neither does leading from behind.
So let’s adopt a new vision, one that requires neither ceding America’s predominance nor policing foreign countries such as Afghanistan. Instead, by spearheading the creation of a powerful free-trade bloc, we will reverse America’s declining influence in the world and advance our own economy as well as those of our partners. Meanwhile, the alliance will strengthen by its own momentum, leading to defense treaties and other agreements that protect and enhance members’ trading activities.
As we survey the international landscape today, littered with burning American flags, charred U.S. embassies with the black flag of Islamism waving above them, and murdered diplomats including our ambassador, we must ask ourselves what is more radical: forging an economic alliance with our most reliable allies or preserving the status quo?
— Devin Nunes has served as a Republican member of the House, representing California’s 21st district, since 2003. He is a member of the Ways and Means Committee as well as the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.